Your Best-Performing Employees Might Need More Privacy in the Office
(This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post)
About ten years ago, I shut down our offices. Everyone in my company works remotely from their home offices or at clients. The decision could not have been timed better. Besides saving on overhead, it seems that I avoided one of the worst office design trends ever embraced by corporate culture: the dreaded “open office.”
Is this your office? Do you realize what you’re doing to your employees? Are you really making them work together in one room? Have we not evolved since the offices of 1923?
At client after client, I watch with horror as innocent employees are forced by business owners and managers to sit at desks across and besides one another, together, in one room. It’s a nightmare. Look around. You’re making that poor guy listen to his co-worker’s phone call about her Tinder hookup from the night before, and he’s about to lose his breakfast. And what about the guy who eats the same tuna sandwich every day…with his mouth open? How many times does his co-worker sitting across from him have to stare at that stray potato chip hanging in his beard before she goes mad? Does your company’s health insurance cover mental breakdowns? Or the cost to reimburse your employees for a pair of Beats just to give themselves the illusion that no one else is around them? How can this be productive?
Apparently, it’s not.
At least, not according to William Belk, a process consultant who writes at Hackernoon. His firm anonymously surveyed about 2,000 employees from the software, IT, hardware, financial services, creative, marketing, automotive, architecture and manufacturing industries and found that more than half (54 percent) of those considered “high performance” find their office environment “too distracting.”
Belk defines High-Performance Employees (HPE) as people who “are asked to solve the hardest problems in every company. They are the technicians, builders, designers, creatives, culture shapers, narrators and innovators. Together they erect product and industry across the globe.” His research shows that the open-air office environment is killing them. You’re killing them.
Sure, you created this design with the best of intentions. The idea was that instead of walling people into cubicles or offices, why not have an environment that fosters communication, collaboration and creative thinking? Who cares if the tuna guy hasn’t spoken — or changed his shirt — in the eight months that he’s been working for you? You say that at least there’s a chance that he’ll open up to his co-workers and something brilliant will happen that will take your company to new levels of profitability! That’s the idea. Sorry, but it’s not a great idea.
Actually, it’s not the non-communicative, tuna-eating guy that Belk is worried about. He’s concerned with the woman who spends her days organizing happy hour, the guy who’s always chatting with his buddy about the next softball game, the people sharing funny videos or that employee who has been sniffling and sneezing all day and risks death by stoning at the hands of her fellow co-workers if she does it one more time. They are all disruptive, and high-performance employees loathe them. Belk’s survey finds that 54 percent of them find their office too distracting. Hey, these people need quiet, dammit! These are geniuses at work! They have to think! And those constant quips about The Bachelor aren’t helping!
So what can you do about this problem? In his article, Belk suggests “more normalized codes of conduct, thoughtfully walled space, visual partitions, alcoves, private work rooms, and vastly more sound suppression. We need space where our HPEs can engage and retreat as needed. We need fluid space with an emphasis on predictability and calm.”
If all that doesn’t work, I guess a bowl of Adderall in the break room could also do the trick. Your call.